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Federal government to CRTC: you’ve gone too far

You can tell it’s an election year when the government actually bothers to do something useful. Harper, seeing the writing on the wall after massive petitions and public outcry, has issued an ultimatum to the CRTC about its recent usage-based internet billing ruling: back down, or we’ll overrule you:

Last week, the CRTC ruled that usage-based billing, the model used by large Internet providers such as Bell Canada and Rogers Communications to charge customers extra for exceeding monthly download limits, will apply to smaller providers, too. Until now, those smaller providers could offer unlimited Internet packages; the ruling means they no longer can.

There have been hints already from Industry Minister Tony Clement that the federal government may quash the controversial ruling, and the prime minister has asked for a review of it. But the government’s blunt ultimatum to the CRTC suggests any review would be pro forma.

This was a terrible decision by the CRTC – yet another in a long line of them that have backed Big Telecom’s demands over the rights of the consumer and the marketplace. Usage-based billing would have stifled innovation and choked off advancement, it’s true. But let’s not forget that, thanks to the CRTC, Canadians pay the most in the world for cell phone plans, pay for incoming text messages (despite another Harper campaign promise… anyone remember that?), and enjoy tons of lovely censorship of TV and radio. All because the CRTC is supposed to protect the interests of all Canadians, but only protects the interests of three: Bell, Telus and Rogers.

As for the government, let’s not forget that this is one decision, taken under overwhelming public pressure, in the face of hundreds of other decisions that have gone against consumer interests. The real solution isn’t to review this one decision; the real solution is to review the CRTC’s overall mandate and existence.

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